ADHD and the Gifted Child

Research regarding ADHD and the gifted child is suggesting that it can be very easy to confuse the child who simply has ADHD symptoms compared to identifying the child as actually gifted. The term "Mis-Diagnosis" has actually been used in some cases. Many signs or symptoms seen in children with ADHD can be similar to and even confused with children who have been identified as Gifted or more intellectually advanced when compared with other children of the same age. A gifted child will lose interest in school very rapidly because they grasp concepts rapidly and are not being stimulated. So they start to day dream. The impact of this confusion can result in mis-diagnosis, being labeled incorrectly, being placed on a treatment plan that does not help and even unnecessary prescribing of medications.

ADHD and the gifted child is being looked at and debated within child psychology circles due to the increasing interest and diagnosing of children with ADHD today. These professionals are questioning if and then how much overlap occurs in symptom identification between ADHD and the Gifted Child. The concern is that there can be an under-acknowledgment of gifted children and an over diagnosis of children with ADHD. At the same time, there can be an under-acknowledgement of ADHD and a delay in proper treatment if the treatment team, parents and doctors pursue the gifted path too long. The clinical importance of the right differential diagnosis is so that the proper treatments, therapies, support and educational goals can be made with specific individual children.

Characteristics of ADHD and Gifted Children

A clinical definition of a "gifted" child is one whose IQ tests at 130 or above:

  • Mildly gifted -- 115 to 129
  • Moderately gifted -- 130 to 144
  • Highly gifted -- 145 to 159
  • Exceptionally gifted -- 160 to 179
  • Profoundly gifted -- 180

Those children with higher IQ's, showing signs of being gifted, tend to excel in school, particularly in subjects such as math or linguistics, and in general do not pose behavioral problems in school or at home. However, they may appear at times to be distracted because they can get bored easily, and often in their minds they are "Running Intellectual Circles" around the other children in their class. They often know the answer and they may even feel that "I have known that for a long time". They may even appear restless, displaying inattention or a low attention span. It is not surprising then when a teacher who may not know their background may assume this child may have ADHD.

Gifted children can also become dis-interested even irritated by being made to perform tasks they perceive as irrelevant, and can frequently show types of impulsive behavior similar to symptoms of ADHD, such as jumping from project to project, in order to avoid boredom. In addition, gifted children tend to question rules, perhaps because they have already gotten that lesson, and it appears beneath them. Children with ADHD can often appear to challenge rules - probably because they forgot what there was a rule. These behaviors, which can appear to be purposeful and disruptive on the outside, can be indicators of both giftedness and ADHD; with one being influenced by an advanced intellect and the other by neurological and/or chemical imbalances within the brain.

Treating ADHD and the Gifted Child

To properly differentiate between the ADHD and the gifted child requires a proper differential diagnosis by a trained professional who then can make a suggested and detailed treatment plan involving counseling and medication. It is possible the child with ADHD can also have a high intellect. Deciding whether a child has both ADHD and giftedness means psychologists must administer tests examining intellectual and cognitive abilities in areas of:

  • General Intelligence
  • Attention
  • Memory
  • Motor Skills
  • Problem Solving
  • Communication/language Skills
  • Speed of Processing Information
  • Personality/Emotional/Social Skills

A Proper diagnosis cannot be made without bringing in the parents: who will be interviewed by the trained professionals and perhaps asked to fill out questionnaires regarding their perspective on the child's behavior at home. Often teachers will be asked for their input about the child's activity at school as well. After assessing all of this input and information, the treatment team, which may include psychiatrists and/or psychologists will determine whether a child has ADHD, is gifted, or is both ADHD and gifted.

Treating ADHD and the gifted child will obviously involve more than simply combining the usual treatment plans for each issue. Often a medication will be needed to alleviate ADHD symptoms even when the child may be gifted. ADHD medications can cause slight cognitive or emotional impairment in gifted children. Whenever a medication is involved in treatment of ADHD, it is always important that the professionals involved monitor dosage closely and the subsequent results of those doses in order to come to the best treatment outcome possible.

› ADHD and the Gifted Child

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